Friday, October 17, 2014

Volunteer Spotlight: Ursuline Academy, Brazil


The St. Bernard Project recently welcomed eight international high school students to New Orleans. These students are traveling from Ilheus, Brazil, located on the South Atlantic shore. Their school, named Colegio Nossa Senhora da Piedade, is part of a larger association of Roman Catholic education institutions. With schools worldwide, Ursuline students are encouraged to be global citizens. We have been lucky enough to have other groups from Ursuline schools in London,and locally, join us in service during past years.

The students are touring major US cities, their last stop being St. Louis Missouri, where they served at an elementary school in an underserved community. There, they taught other youths about art and helped out with projects at the school. When deciding to spend time in Louisiana, trip organizers from the Brazil school reached out to their sister school here in NOLA looking for a place to conduct a service project. Sister Regina Marie (pictured far right), a previous staff member at the New Orleans Ursuline Academy is a long-time supporter of SBP and sent them our way.

This group of students and chaperones spent two days rebuilding Ms. Elaine’s Katrina damaged home. As this house is entering its final stages of construction, students performed a variety of tasks including: painting interior doors, trim and the exterior of the house. The students came to a mutual agreement that their favorite task on site was caulking, to which their site supervisor, Bridgett, praised them: “It took me two months to learn how to caulk properly, and these guys are practically pros on their first try!” she beamed.

When asked what they would tell future volunteers, a young woman spoke out saying, they should volunteer because it’s an incredible experience and continued to elaborate on the impact she feels helping somebody who lost their home. Another student simply said “rewarding” upon which everyone else agreed. Finally, a chaperone and mentor to the group left the group thinking when she said, “These people lost their homes, and you are giving it back to them with your time and service.” And when asked how it felt to do just this, the group responded saying, “It feels good.”

The students also spoke out passionately about SERVIAM, their school motto, which translates into “I will serve.” This goes to show that everyone, no matter how far from home they are, is hardwired to help.

Thanks for all your hard work Ursuline Academy -- we look forward to future trips!

To volunteer with the St. Bernard Project visit:

Written by: Rachel Emerson

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Many Faces of AmeriCorps: Meet Angela!

Angela Calabro - Malverne, NY - 26 - Site Supervisor with SBP

A little bit about Angela: 

Prior to her AmeriCorps term, Angela had been working in a specialized industry for several years and decided she wanted to explore different career options.  She felt that a year of service would be beneficial and allow her ton continue to be productive while having new experiences during this time of discovery and transition.  She grew up on Long Island but was not in the country when Sandy hit.  She wanted to get involved in a more substantial way than just occasional volunteering, which is why she chose to serve in the Rockaways.  

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

I have been the Site Supervisor on three homes to date, however my biggest accomplishment was the second.  We had several complications but I felt the general rebuild process went well and I was able to physically see how my role as Site Supervisor was critical in bringing the family home making all other issues seem unimportant.  

Talk about a time you felt very connected to the vision: 

I felt very connected to the mission when I first was in training.  Our Project Manager at the time did an excellent job of team building and supporting us while teaching the appropriate skills needed to work on houses.  He allowed us to feel like members of a larger support system that although not perfect would be there to allow us to be as productive and successful as possible.  

Why do you think service is important?

Service is important in order to realize the bigger picture of what is going on in neighborhoods we aren’t familiar with.  Service allows us to put our own lives in perspective and give back to communities that are in need.  We never know where our own paths may take us and although we hope to never need it, one day we may find ourselves in seeking a little assistance.  Service is also crucial to enabling school children who have not been exposed to different experiences and settings to be pushed far out of their comfort zone and continuously supported until they accomplish the task. 

What have you gained from serving in AmeriCorps?

AmeriCorps has shown me how there will always be new projects and tasks that seem daunting to learn i.e. rebuilding a house, however if broken down into smaller steps and practiced almost anything is possible to learn.  

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Many Faces of AmeriCorps: Meet Mike!

Spotlight on: Mike Hamilton, 69 - Veteran, Retired Electrician – Electrician for SBP

Mike retired to Joplin to take care of his mother, but after the devastating tornadoes he saw the overwhelming need for his skill as an electrician.  Mike was also able to share his love of landscaping and gardening with our clients – putting the finishing touch on our clients’ homes.

Mike, why do you think Service is important? It’s important because people are important, ad if they are trying to recover then we should help.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?  Whenever I finish a house and it is turned over to the owners…but mostly when I finish a garden or landscape a yard and make it a home instead of a house.

You volunteered with Catholic Charities and Habitat for Humanity and served 2 terms with AmeriCorps.  What have you gained from serving others? A lifetime of memories and a sense of being a part of something important.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Many Faces of AmeriCorps: Meet Julie!

Spotlight on: Julie Balsamo, 23 - Teacher from Pittsburgh, PA - Site Supervisor for SBP

With a teaching degree, certified for grades 5-12, Julie put lesson plans on hold to serve with AmeriCorps to help the recovery effort in Staten Island, NY, one of many communities devastated by Superstorm Sandy.  As a Site Supervisor for St. Bernard Project, Julie was trained to learn construction skills over 6 weeks and then spent the next 8 months training volunteers to do everything from framing to hanging drywall to laying flooring.

Julie, why did you decide to serve with AmeriCorps? I wanted to go somewhere I have never lived and learn new skills before I settled down with a career.  My AmeriCorps term allowed me to live in NYC, learn construction and encounter people and perspectives from all over the country.

Talk about a time you felt very connected to the mission:  On one site where I worked, the homeowner came by nearly every day and worked alongside us. We got to know each other quite well, and I was so inspired by her dedication to get back to her home. I was no longer just working to build a house for someone I barely knew, I was working to get my friend and her family home.

Why do you think service is important? If we had not been there to work on these houses, it is likely they would not have been rebuilt any time soon. So many homeowners were victims of contractor fraud. Our service not only had an impact on homeowners and the surrounding communities, but also on the volunteers who were inspired by their own impact and that of volunteers who had come before them.  I have countless stories and takeaway moments that have shown me people’s incredible resilience and ability to give.

Friday, August 29, 2014

A 9th Anniversary Message from SBP's Co-Founders

Dear Friends,

During their Welcome Home party last month, Robert and Geraldine Starks stood on their front porch in utter disbelief.

Robert, a Vietnam veteran who stayed behind after the storm to help his neighbors evacuate, and Geraldine, celebrating a year of remission after a hard-fought battle with cancer, could not seem to fathom the fact that they were finally moving home. It had been nine years.  

10526182_10152174264472452_5293634074393220855_n.jpgStarks WHP.jpg

Like 60% of SBP’s clients, the Starks turned their insurance payout over to a crooked contractor, and were left with nothing but a half-built home that they could not afford to complete on their own. Their limited income went to medical bills and paying their rent.

Robert and Geraldine.jpg

The Starks are one of 560 families who, thanks to the unwavering support of our donors and volunteers, once again sleep soundly in their own bed, knowing the peace and comfort that only comes from being home.

The couple wore matching “USA” t-shirts - a reminder that their citizenship, their humanity, once again meant something.

SBP was built on the belief that all of us are hardwired to prevent harm, solve problems and help others. Every day you remind us that this is true - that despite all the destruction from Katrina and wrongs that were done in the aftermath, there are still people who stand by, ready to help.

And we still need your help. We need your help because it has been nine years and there are over 100 families on our waiting list. And we need your help because we receive a minimum of 15 new calls every single week from families seeking assistance. The average age of the person calling is 63 years. These is a real, ongoing problem and we cannot solve it without your help.

I am proud of what SBP has accomplished since Katrina. I’m especially proud to see how the lessons learned here in New Orleans are causing impact in other communities:

  • SBP’s affiliate, Rebuild Joplin, will complete the recovery in Joplin in December of this year. The recovery, slated to take five years, will be complete in three-and-a-half.
  • Our Superstorm Sandy recovery operations have rebuilt over 100 homes in Rockaway, Staten Island and Monmouth County, NJ.
  • Thanks to the generous support of Zurich Insurance Group, SBP will soon be working in new communities through our Disaster Resilience and Recovery Lab. SBP will conduct trainings designed to help homeowners, small to mid-sized businesses and community leaders understand and mitigate risk prior to disaster. After disasters, SBP will work in impacted communities to implement our documented, standardized and proven-effective model.

We have made progress, to be sure - but there is still much work to be done. Nine years have passed since Katrina, and there are still families wondering, “What will it take to move home?”

SBP has the answer. With $25,000 in building supplies, 150 volunteers and an average of 61 days, we can move a family back into their home. This is where we still need your help.

Please donate to help more families like the Starks move home.

We urge you to think about your own family on this 9th anniversary - to think about what lengths you would go to if your parents, your grandparents, were still fighting to get home.

We believe this is a solvable problem, and by donating, you are part of the solution.

Best wishes,
Zack Rosenburg & Liz McCartney

p.s. Please remember that investing in SBP impacts the way communities everywhere prepare for and recover from disasters. SBP has rebuilt more than 800 homes nationally, but we can all do more.

+ + +
Here are 3 simple ways you can help more families like the Starks move home:
1.  Please consider making a donation at Every donation helps bring a family that much closer to home.

2.  Go to and start an online fundraising campaign. It’s quick and easy – and donations go straight to SBP.

3.  Throw a party! This is New Orleans, after all. Host a get-together and ask folks to donate. There are folks at SBP who can help you plan this option and give you all the tools you need to make your party a success.
Your donation will help move families from the waiting list and into their homes. There are still over 100 families on the waiting list in New Orleans who really need your help.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Meet Rachel Lau

Meet Rachel Lau. Rachel is from Olive Branch, Mississippi and she serves as a Site Supervisor for SBP in New Orleans. Rachel was a student at Arizona State when Katrina hit:

“I was absolutely overwhelmed by the magnitude of it--the pictures, the stories, the number of people from New Orleans who evacuated, the number of people who didn't. But it was almost more overwhelming as it unfolded and you realized that we didn't have a good system in place to help these people who had lost so much.”

Rachel received a graduate degree in Architecture from University of Virginia.  Why did you choose to serve with AmeriCorps after graduation?

“I believe that each person has at least one skill they can share with their neighborhood and in their community. It can be painting portraits or having a good set of ears or fixing cars or mowing lawns. For me, I love buildings. I love the stories of old buildings. And so I want my skill to be fixing houses--I want to be able to help a neighbor out when they want to gut their kitchen, and when I gut mine I'm going to hope I've got a neighbor who is there to help me!”

It’s been 9 years since Katrina. What can you say about your experience in New Orleans this long after the storm?

“I've been overwhelmed by the kinds of obstacles people are still faced with in moving back--everything from trying to prove ownership of their house because the paperwork they had was lost in the flood to finding themselves victims of contractor fraud to trying to work through the emotions they felt and faced during the storm and its aftermath.”

You’re building houses in the oppressive heat of New Orleans. What gets you through the day?

“The families we are helping are hardworking, generous people who are fighting to come home. The energy of their fight, their resilience despite so many obstacles, their enthusiasm for SBP and our mission...these are the things that keep me, my AmeriCorps peers/team and thousands of volunteers excited about putting hammer to nail.”

 To learn more about AmeriCorps or how you can share your talents through volunteerism, please visit our website:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

9 Years Later, Finally Home

I never imagined that living right next to the interstate could ever be so peaceful. The evening of the welcome home party the first thing on the agenda for Capria and I was to set some strict boundaries for Joshua and Hakeem. Letting them know that Francis Drive is our home and we have to take care of it by being gentle with the structure and keeping ourselves and the furniture clean. First question was...what is the structure? So maybe I should have just kept it simple.

That night we stayed up late walking around as if the house was a museum. It had not yet settled in that this was where we were going to be living. After all, only one of us had ever lived in this house before.  I for one stared at the energy efficient light bulbs in the ceiling with thoughts of all the folks who made it happen. 

The boys absolutely love it that they have a space without daddy all up in their business...for now that is.  As a family we have watched television maybe a total of four hours since we have been here - I love it. It allows the boys to become creative with all the new things "Da Design Angels" put in place for them.  We have made it our own with projects outside the house, although that's been short lived with all of our schedules colliding. It seems all the work put in by SBP leaves me with nothing to try and fix. Clothes are how everyone has seemed to personalize the house. I'm sad to report that pictures remain in the electronics that store them, but we did purchase a new mailbox online! It's been sitting for 2 weeks - lacking the time to properly put it up. 

Harold's Family - Thanks Lexie Cole Photography!

We spend time together preparing meals and actually sitting down at the dinner table talking and making funny faces. The dining room has been one of the most consistently used areas for homework and food.  SBP thank you so much for everything. The work is so professionally executed. Had it not been for SBP, I would have never met the awesome volunteers from across the country to make this project a reality for my family. SBP provided the framework for us to live and The Design Angels supplied us with the tools we needed to succeed. We’re all so organized from the specific furniture pieces they put in the house.

Marriage is awesome with my best friend. We learned we are both clean fanatics!

It means so much to be back in this neighborhood. There's a quiet movement of people that care just as much as I think I do: the house around the corner that was falling is torn down; other folks are working to reestablish their homes on our street; the council person for the area asked if I could come up with some initiatives for our part of the city improvement process. 


To help SBP bring more families like the Bailey’s home, spread the word that there is still work to be done! Please consider donating online at or by mailing a check to 8324 Parc Place, Chalmette, LA 70043

Thank you to Event Pros Take Action and Rentals Unlimited for making this dream for the Bailey Family come true!!